Based in Noblesville, Indiana, Curtis writes the syndicated humor column, Grammar Guy. He also likes to write for startups.

The Temple of Whom

The Temple of Whom

 Photo by  Brian Kairuz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brian Kairuz on Unsplash

Today I want to tackle another tricky grammar bugaboo. It’s one of those confusing quandaries I simply avoid using because I don’t want to sound dumb. I’m talking about who and whom.

Every time I’m tempted to use whom, I’m afraid of sounding like I own a fancy, private helicopter to travel to my private island where I roll around in gold coins, Scrooge McDuck-style. It just kind of sounds snooty. So let’s learn how to use it correctly, shall we?

I have an easy way to remember when to use who or whom: Use who when you can replace it in a sentence with he; use whom when you can replace it in a sentence with him. For example: Who/Whom tried to parachute out of my private helicopter? Bad idea, dude.

Let’s try replacing who/whom with him. Him tried to parachute out of my private helicopter. That doesn’t sound right. How about he: He tried to parachute out of my private helicopter. That sounds better, so we should use who in this sentence.

Another example: To who/whom did you invite over to your secret island bungalow this weekend? Which sounds right: I invited he over to my secret island bungalow this weekend -or- I invited him to my secret island bungalow this weekend. Him sounds better, so we should use whom in this example.

He/him is simply a secret, tricky way to determine the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is the person (or place or thing) doing the action in a sentence. The object is the person (or place or thing) on the receiving end of the action. To whom (object) did Gary (subject) direct his cheesy pick-up lines? Since we usually don’t think in terms of subject and object, I think it’s simpler to use the he/him trick.

In my opinion, going around using whom properly probably makes people assume you have an entire closet just for your polo ascots, but I always enjoy a rollicking, post-brunch polo match on the beach of my exclusive pretend island.

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A Grammar Horror Story

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